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Judo wise man hopes Olympians stay focused

Canada's Sergio Pessoa reacts after losing to Brazil's Felipe Kitadai in their under 60kg final match at the Pan American Judo Championship in Montreal April 28, 2012. REUTERS/Olivier Jean

Olivier Jean/Reuters

Mark Berger is officially the teacher... but really, the teacher is the subject: judo.

"It teaches them respect... respect for opponents, respect for rules, respect for themselves," says the Ukraine-born black belt from Winnipeg. Berger captured one of few Olympic medals in the sport for Canada, a 1984 heavyweight bronze.

He also won a 1983 gold in Pan American Games, twice was gold medalist at the Maccabiah Games (1981 and 1985), took five national titles and a silver at the 1985 Pan American championships.

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Berger, who was in Ontario for the province's open championship on the weekend, is one of the sport's wise men in Canada, along with Montreal's Nicolas Gill, who won Olympic silver in 2000 and bronze in 1991 and Doug Rogers, who won Olympic silver in 1964.

"If I could pull the Olympic team aside for a moment and give them one strong lesson, I'd tell them to stay focussed," said Berger.

"Exactly because it's the Olympics, we get more attention than professional athletes. There's lots of media, lots of spectators. It's a different environment from any other tournament you've been in."

Success for the Canadian judokas isn't a new experience, This past weekend they earned three gold medals and a silver when five Canadian fighters went to judo's tatami mats in European Cup action in Orenburg, Russia.

Sunday, Canadians Amy Cotton (-78 kg) of Antigonish, N.S., defeated three opponents; Kelita Zupancic (-70 kg) of Whitby, Ont., won all three of her bouts, and Antoine Valois-Fortier (-81 kg) of Vanier, Que., won all five of his matches. Saturday, Sergio Pessoa Jr., of St. Leonard, Que., , coming back from a serious knee injury, won a silver medal in his under-60 kg class.

Alexandre Émond (-90 kg) of Laval, Que., was placed ninth after withdrawing due to a injury. He'd won two of his three bouts to that point.

Pessoa, son of Brazilian native and coach/mentor Sergio Pessoa Sr., won his first three bouts before falling in the gold medal match -- partly because he lost focus over a questionable call.

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Things did not go as planned in the final, where he was upset by Russian Dmitriy Kulikov.

"I threw the guy down for an ippon at two minutes, it was as clear as day. But the referee didn't give me full points. The refereeing was ridiculous. Everyone there saw that it was an ippon, the guy clearly fell on his back."

The move was judged a waza-ari, however, and instead of the match ending on Pessoa's throw, the Russian took over from then on.

"They have to stay focussed on performance, not on the Olympic experience," Berger said. "Sometimes, it doesn't go your way, but you can't change something that won't change. If you can't change it, don't worry about it."

Pessoa was satisfied and disappointed at the same time. "I did a good job of managing my three first bouts. Unfortunately I couldn't do the same in the final," he said. "Still, what's important is to put together good bouts, and I did just that. Whatever happens before the London Games doesn't matter that much. In the end, it's all about the Olympics."

Sasha Mehmedovic, who injured his right elbow at the Pan-American Championships, decided not take part in the competition.

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At Saturday's San Salvador World Cup, Canada's developing talent took home six medals. Alix Renaud-Roy of Saint-Roch-des-Aulnaies, Que., enjoyed her best performance in a World Cup, winning silver in the women's under-70 kg division. She beat fighters from Guatemala and El Salvador en route to the grand finale where she fell to an ippon by Austrian Bernadette Graf.

Sarah-Myriam Mazouz took bronze in the same category. She lost her first bout against Graf, then strung together ippons against a pair of Salvadorians to mount the podium via repechage

On the men's side, Guillaume Perrault won silver in the under-90 kg division – including a win over fellow Canadian judoka Emin Sheykhislyamov, who along with brother Dilyaver Sheykhislyamov took bronze (both had a record of one win and one defeat at under-90 kg).

In the under-81 kg division, Scott McGrandle also came away with a bronze medal.

"It's much easier to get into international tournaments today, but there's much more travel -- and you have to go to lots of tournaments to qualify," said Berger. "It's never easy to qualify, that's why we never have a full team."


Ryan Cochrane of Windsor, N.S., and Hughes Fournel of Dorval, Que., boosted their sprint hopes for the Olympics with a bronze World Cup medal in 200-metre kayak doubles (K-2 200) at the opening canoe and kayak World Cup at Poznan, Poland.

The K-2 200 is one of 12 races on the Olympic program, Arnaud Hybois and Sebastien Jouve of France won in 33.432 seconds, less than a half-second in front of Cochrane and Fournel, who took their first international medal for the Canada. They could seal the Olympic nomination at next week's World Cup.

"We couldn't ask for more with so many good crews out there,'' said Fournel. ''I wasn't sure we were in the medals in the end but I knew we had a good race."

"We had a few things we wanted to improve from our earlier races here and we did that," added Cochrane. "We were out of the gates fast and were where we wanted to be at the halfway point. It was hard ending but it was enough."

In other Olympic events, Rhys Hill of Ottawa and Richard Dober of Trois-Rivieres, Que., were fifth and seventh respectively in the K-1 200 while Jason McCoombs of Dartmouth, N.S., and Geneviève Beauchesne-Sévigny of Trois-Rivieres were both eighth in the C-1 200 and women's K-1 200 respectively.

"It gives me confidence for the next Olympic selection event in three weeks,'' said Hill. "The second half of my race was a bit tough and I lost some ground on some guys. But the finish was really good and it made for a close race. The depth of the competition here was just incredible. "

McCoombs and Aaron Rublee of Kamloops, B.C., each have a victory in the Olympic selection process for the event. Whoever posts the best result next week at the World Cup in Duisburg gets the Olympic nomination.

On Saturday, Canada's Mark Oldershaw booked his ticket to the London Games after winning World Cup gold. Oldershaw, a third generation Olympians from Burlington, Ont., finished first in the men's C-1 1,000 metres in 4:08.873 seconds.


The Canadian women's pair of Natalie Mastracci of Thorold, Ontario, and Larissa Lagzdins of Burlington, Ontario, finished third in their heat of the Olympic qualification regatta at Lucerne, Switzerland. The Croatian pair won in 7:13.10 and advance to the final, less than a second in front of the French with Canada next at 7:14.24. Canada's next attempt to advance will be Monday's repechange. "The rep will be a good opportunity to work out the kinks," said Peter Cookson, Rowing Canada high performance director.

Germany, winner of the first heat, and Croatia are directly in Tuesday's final. The top two boats in the final on Tuesday will qualify for the 2012 Games in the women's pair event.

Canada qualified seven boats to the Olympics at last fall's world championships in Bled, Slovenia: men's pairs; the men's double sculls; men's fours; men's eight; men's lightweight double sculls; women's eight; and women's lightweight double sculls.

The Canadian crews that have already qualified for the 2012 Olympics will compete next weekend at the World Cup, also in Lucerne.


It's a good sign when a good result is viewed as a mediocre disappontment. Catherine Pendrel of Kamloops, B.C., placed fourth in a World Cup race at La Bresse, France and called it the worst riding performance of her year.

Pendrel is mountain bike world champion and ranked second in UCI. She is 60 points behind France's Julie Bresset on the mountain bike standing. But she is already looking ahead towards a break, then the Olympics, eager to put La Bresse behind her. She was 1:12.00 behind 39-year-old winner Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa of Norway.

"It was a very hard course, a real mountain bike course, and you had to be on top of things for the whole race," said Pendrel, 32, who said she didn't do well on the technical parts of the course. "I'm looking forward to a bit of a break at home before we start preparing for London."

Pendrel and Bresset had an early but both riders crashed on one of the descents. Dahle Flesjaa took the lead for the victory on the final descent when Katerina Nash of the Czech Republic also crashed. Bresset took third, 17 seconds in front of Pendrel. Emily Batty of Brooklin, Ont., finished ninth in the women's race.

Max Plaxton of Victoria was a career-high ninth in the men's race, 2:51.00 behind race winner Julien Absalon of France.

The race was the final Olympic qualifying event.


At 39, Clara Hughes remains one of the top riders in world class the time trial events, winning her second consecutive Rona Chrono Gatineau race by more than seven seconds, against an international field that included U.S. champion Evelyn Stevens.

Hughes – best known for carrying the flag into Canada's Vancouver 2010 Olympics, her philanthropy with the Right to Play organization and as a spokesperson for sponsor Bell's Let's Talk mental health initiative, captured Saturday's 18.4 km time trial in 23 minutes 56.76 seconds. The Gatineau Chrono, which features two demanding 500-metre climbs up a 5.9 per cent grade, is one of only two Canadian races sanctioned by the International Cycling Union.

Hughes averaged 46.14 kmph, and said her "motivation is excellent" for the London Olympics.

She rode for the German-based pro team Specialized Lululemon, which placed four riders in the top five with Stevens second at 24:04.56; Amber Neben third at 24:16.44, Edmonton's Tara Whitten fourth at 24:27.24 (riding for TIBCO To the Top); and Ina-Yoko Tuetenberg, fifth at 24:38.43.

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